The knock on the Boston Celtics coming into this series was that it was the first time for this young group to play in the NBA Finals and their nerves would get the best of them.
The collective experience of the Golden State Warriors, who have won three titles in four finals appearances with this core group, was expected to be a crucial advantage for them.
Instead, it was Boston that showed tremendous poise and resilience in Game 1 as they stole a 120-108 win at the Chase Center in shocking fashion to take a 1-0 lead in the NBA Finals.
Golden State built double digit margin on two occasions, a 10-point edge in the early goings of the second quarter and what was supposed to be a back-breaking 15-point lead late in the third quarter, but the Celtics clawed back both times despite the hostile crowd.
Boston patiently erased the 12-point deficit, 92-80, that they faced heading into the fourth quarter with patient execution and timely shot-making from their role players. Back-to-back three-pointers from reserve guard Derrick White tied the contest at 103 with less than six minutes remaining on the game clock. After that, their ever-reliable veteran Al Horford then took matters into his own hands.
Playing in his first NBA Finals after appearing in a record 141 career playoff games, Horford proceeded to score eight straight points, including two of the six threes that he made during the evening. This put the Celtics up by eight, 111-103, with 3:40 left in the game.
At that point, it was still a winnable match for the Warriors. However, Boston passed the baton to reigning NBA Defensive Player of the Year Marcus Smart who hit back-to-back three-pointers during the next two minutes that extended their lead to 14 and sealed the win.
While their gutsy shot-making played a key role in the win, it was their trademark hard-nosed defense that allowed them to stay competitive over the first three quarters and eventually zoom ahead in the fourth quarter. They limited Golden State to only 16 points in the final period and scored 40 as a group which tied them for the largest scoring margin in a quarter in NBA Finals history.
The Celtics played a complete team game and proved, at least for one game, that they are ready for the moment. What is even more impressive about their win was that they survived a three-of-17 shooting performance from their leading scorer Jayson Tatum.
The three-time NBA All-Star finished with only 12 points in 41 minutes of action, but he managed to find a way to remain impactful. As he has throughout this postseason, he flashed his expanding skill set and handed out a career-high 13 assists with just two turnovers. With Tatum playing the role of a decoy to perfection, this allowed the rest of the team to have big scoring nights.
It was the 35-year-old Horford who wound up with the most points for Boston as he continues to turn back the clock in this postseason.The 6’9 forward tallied 26 points on nine-of-12 shooting, including six three-pointers, coupled with six rebounds, three assists, and a steal in 32 minutes. Down the stretch, he was deployed as the center in their small-ball line-up and proved to be too much to handle for the Warriors’ Draymond Green.
Jaylen Brown added 24 points, seven rebounds, five assists, two steals, and a block, White had 21 points, five threes, three assists, and finished with a team-best +/- of +25, and Smart chipped in with 18 points on seven-of-11 shooting, four threes, five rebounds, four assists, two steals, and zero turnovers.
The Celtics have taken care of business on the road and seized control of home court advantage with this win. There are many positive takeaways encouraging signs from this win, yet this series is still far from over.
Golden State has championship experience and should bounce back in a resounding manner come Game 2. The NBA Finals is off to a thrilling start and if this opening game is any indication, this series has the potential to go down in history as one of the most entertaining ones that the world has witnessed in recent memory.